So-called essential oils are anything but essential when it comes to pets, and they can actually be deadly to them.
Essential oils can be toxic when it comes to many pets, including cats, birds, and dogs. This is a fact, and not something that can be debated unless you have evidence that has yet to be presented, and that can somehow change the scientific consensus.
As essential oils rise in popularity, more and more anecdotes are arising online about their dangers to pets. One account went viral earlier this year, prompting more investigation. In that story, a Michigan woman used a eucalyptus oil diffuser in her house and inadvertently poisoned her cat.
The first couple days I didn’t notice any symptoms with Ernie, but on the fourth day, he was lethargic, unstable on his feet and was drooling excessively. My husband instinctively Googled eucalyptus oil. It stated that it can be toxic to cats and they can’t metabolize it and stated all of Ernie’s symptoms. It also said that without medical attention, it could be fatal! So I took him to the Vet right away!
Stories are one thing, but research tells the same story. Snopes picked up on the anecdote, and put it to the test using recommendations from valid sources.
The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) lists essential oils like eucalyptus, orange and lemon (among others) as being among the leading causes for tremors among cats. The group also has warnings on its website for products that may contain essential oils.
According to Tina Wismer, the medical director for the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center, cats exposed to essential oils can absorb it through their skin or orally. In some cases, she said, owners inadvertently put them at risk by applying substances with a high concentration of essential oils on their cats while trying to treat other problems, such as an open wound or ear mites…
Before using products containing essential oils on their pets, she said, owners should make sure that they are labeled for use with that specific species.
Despite the fact that essential oils have been proven to be toxic to cats, many people don’t know (or care). One woman even recorded a tutorial teaching people about how to subject their feline “friends” to the concentrates.
Endangering Other Animals
While cats are especially sensitive to essential oils, other animals are being poisoned, too. Oils spread through diffusers, for instance, are even more dangerous to birds, which have an entirely different respiratory system.
There have also been several anecdotes about how essential oils have affected dogs, such as this one:
But as we all know, individual testimony can only take us so far. So, here’s what the professional (Wismer) said about this one:
All pet owners should be careful about exposing their animals to essential oils. Generally speaking, cats have more sensitivity to many toxins, including essential oils, than dogs do, because they have fewer metabolizing enzymes in their liver. With that said, dogs can develop the same symptoms as cats, including drooling, vomiting, sneezing, and coughing, and dogs with prior respiratory conditions can be particularly at risk for more serious effects.
Another Important Critique
Fortunately, this issue has also been addressed by Wirecutter, a New York Times Company. The writer explains that “some essential oils are toxic to dogs and cats, and none have been proven to be an effective treatment for animals.”
Reliable research on the benefits of essential oils for pets is even scarcer than it is for humans. The handful of studies that do exist are largely sponsored by companies that make herbal-infused pet products (including these studies from 2002, 2013, and 2016). Many essential oils should be avoided entirely if you have pets, because they’re toxic to dogs, cats, or birds.
You shouldn’t apply pure essential oils topically or orally to your pet because these oils can be dangerous (especially tea tree oil) and there’s not enough evidence that they’re effective. If you have an active diffuser, like a nebulizer, make sure the oil you’re using is safe for your particular animal (more on this below), and air out the room before you let your pet back in; even safe oils can irritate an animal’s lungs. Passive diffusers are generally safer, as long as your pet doesn’t knock them over or get into them—and though there’s no hard and fast rule, the more dilute an oil is, generally, the safer it is, but always check with your vet first.
The largest danger essential oils pose to pets comes from owners who use highly concentrated oils to treat their pet’s skin conditions or to keep fleas away.
This is something that my family has also had experience with. Rachael and I have a beautiful St. Bernard/Pit Bull named Maggie, and she had a really bad reaction to essential oils used to “treat” anxiety. We vowed to never make that mistake again, but too many people still do every day.
Hopefully they will see this article, review the evidence, and keep their essential oils away from pets.
***For additional reading, check out SciBabe’s article here.